Yom Kippur is often perceived as a time of reflection for the individual.
Repenting is in essence a personal process of introspection and self-accounting
with the goal of reaching operative conclusions and resolutions regarding one’s
behavior in the future.
As Maimonides writes in the first chapter of his
book of laws on tshuva, often translated as “atonement,” but which also means
“return”: “At present, when the Temple does not exist and there is no altar of
atonement, there remains nothing else aside from tshuva [of the
After the destruction of the Temple, notes Maimonides, the
concept of tshuva was restricted primarily to the individual Jew’s process of
“return,” whereas in the time of the Temple, the Azazel goat atoned for the
And this was eminently logical. In exile the Jewish people
did continue to foster a sense of peoplehood and mutual responsibility. But the
extent to which Jews spread out across the Diaspora felt they had a shared
destiny was limited. A Jewish self-reckoning on a national level made little
sense as long as Jews were not gathered together in a country of their
On the 40th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War, as we unite with
those who mourn family and friends and comfort soldiers who were wounded in body
and spirit, we should acknowledge that the war and the collective act of
self-reckoning that followed in many ways reinstated a national process of
tshuva that existed before the destruction of the Temple and was symbolized in
the sacrifice of the Azazel goat.
Admittedly, the lessons learned from
the Yom Kippur War were radically divergent for the Left and the Right, as Yossi
Klein Halevi noted in a video that appears on the Shalom Hartman Institute’s
For the Left, the lesson to be learned from the high price
paid to win the Yom Kippur War, which included the death of nearly 2,700
soldiers, was that Israeli society must not fall into complacency and a false
sense of invincibility.
Instead, Israel must actively pursue peace and be
sensitive to opportunities for reconciliation with our neighbors. The 1979 peace
treaty with Egypt was a vindication of the Left’s pro-peace conclusion from the
Yom Kippur War. Ironically, it was right-wing prime minister Menachem Begin who
signed under the declaration “no more war, no more bloodshed.”
A no less
well-intentioned, but less successful, outcome of the Yom Kippur War’s pro-peace
thinking was the Oslo Accords, the 20th anniversary of the signing of which by
PLO leader Yasser Arafat and prime minister Yitzhak Rabin we mark
The Right’s conclusion from the Yom Kippur War, in contrast, was
that there was a need to combat the feeling of weakness and vulnerability that
pervaded Israeli society after the war. Gush Emunim was formed in the wake of
the war and the push to build Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza
began in earnest only in 1974, more than six years after these lands came under
Israeli control. The Left and Right have something in common.
reached conclusions on a national level as a result of a collective
self-reckoning. More important, both took advantage of the Jewish people’s
relatively new political sovereignty to shape their own destiny and the destiny
of their children and grandchildren.
Whether they pursued the promised
“peace doves” mentioned in Shmuel Hasfari’s 1994 song “Winter 1973” or
strengthened the faith-based spirit of patriotism expressed in Yossi Gilpin’s
2010 song “Believers Do Not Fear” [Mi shema’amin lo mefakhed], both the Left and
the Right acted to transform Israeli society in accordance with the lessons
learned from the Yom Kippur War.
In his book Orot Hatshuva (“The Lights
of Penitence”), Rabbi Avraham Kook (1865-1935), who in his lifetime saw the
beginning of the return of the Jewish people to their land, wrote of the tshuva
of the entire nation of Israel as “a mighty, powerful vision that provides
reserves of might and strength,” as opposed to the tshuva of “isolated,
In the wake of the Yom Kippur War, Israeli Jews across
the political spectrum embarked on a collective act of tshuva. In the process,
they unleashed tremendous forces for change. These forces transformed Israel
into what it is today – a proud, patriotic nation that nevertheless keeps a hand
extended in peace to the Palestinians and its neighbors. This is the national
power of tshuva that was unleashed on Yom Kippur 40 years ago.
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